February 26th, 2010
02:35 PM ET
4 years ago

Democrats back down on controversial interrogation proposal

Washington (CNN) – House Republicans were still hammering away at Democrats on Friday, one day after pressuring the majority to withdraw a controversial amendment to an intelligence funding bill that would have criminally punished intelligence officers for conducting harsh interrogations.

On the House floor, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, called the provision "deplorable," and said it was symptomatic in how some in Congress and the administration view intelligence officials. "Their reflex action is to blame the intelligence community first," he said.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was glad the Democrats decided to take what he called a "lousy" amendment out of the bill, but criticized them for "sneaking" it into the overall money bill without any debate or hearings.

Earlier this week, the House Rules Committee added several amendments to the intelligence funding bill, including an 11-page provision that specifies criminal penalties for "any officer or employee of the intelligence community who, in the course of or in anticipation of a covered interrogation, knowingly commits, attempts to commit, or conspires to commit an act of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

The acts defined in the amendment include beatings, electric shock, waterboarding, deprivation of food, water or sleep and violations of the suspects religious beliefs. The intelligence officers would face up to 15 years in prison or life behind bars if the detainee dies.

When Republicans discovered the amendment Thursday during floor debate on the overall bill, they went on the offense.

Thornberry said it was a "topsy-turvy land where we forget who the good guys are, who are trying to keep us safe, and who the bad guys are."

Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Michigan, said the amendment is too vague, failing to define such things as what constitutes lack of sleep or an infringement on religious beliefs. He maintained that it "will absolutely freeze the intelligence community's ability to go out and get information that they need."

Hoekstra said the provision would create new criminal statutes and repeatedly asked Democrats to explain the rationale for the amendment. Only two responded.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, Illinois said the amendment simply "reiterates existing law on torture and provides statutory criminal penalties." Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, agreed, arguing that the provision "simply says, follow the rules, follow the law."

Their, however, explanations did not jibe with the congressman who authored the amendment. After the provision was pulled, Jim McDermott, D-Washington, explained that his amendment "would have expanded upon the president's Executive Order to clearly define what constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading interrogation so that it is unmistakable what kinds of techniques are unacceptable."

So why did the Democrats decide to strike the amendment? Reyes said it was done because the Republicans had "some mis-impressions" of what the amendment was intended to do. His Republican counterpart saw it differently. Hoekstra said the Democrats did not have enough votes within their own party to pass the bill.


Filed under: Homeland Security • Terrorism
soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Love those Dems - always trying to make this country safer for Islamist terrorists.

    February 26, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  2. Marc

    Shameful, simply shameful as to how the Dems bowed to the Republicans on that one.
    So now the 'intelligence officers' are above the same laws that everybody else in the country (citizen or not) have to obey every day...
    Shameful...

    February 26, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  3. Conservatism equals illiterate ignorance

    It is too bad they backed down, those who did interogations as they did destroyed the cedibility of the USA in the face of the world and should be brought to justice but as always happens when the Repugnants get involved the guilty get off scott free and walk away from thier crimes time and time again.

    February 26, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  4. Anthony

    It's deplorable to criminally punish torture now? That seems completely backwards.

    February 26, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  5. liberal wing nut

    Only a liberal dirt bag would try to punish our intelligence community for doing their job.

    February 26, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  6. VAVoter

    Well, if torture is illegal and intel officers are performing them then they've commited a crime, and it should be punishable by law....what is "deplorable" about that? Breaking the law is deplorable, no matter how you try to justify it.

    February 26, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  7. Holder loses........

    Palin wins......

    February 26, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  8. Connie in Tennessee

    Typical ReThugs – All for torture!

    February 26, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  9. Fair is Fair

    Speaking of recently passed bills....

    Why is it that there is ZERO coverage of the house vote to extend the Patriot Act? You know... the Patriot Act? The Patriot Act that you Obamatards hate so much and chide the Bush Administration incessantly for?

    The extension passed by an overwhelming majority in the democratic controlled house.

    Yet no coverage. Nope... no liberal bias in the media here. Move along. Nothing to see. Keep moving along, folks.

    February 26, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  10. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    So now when we catch a terrorist on the battlefield, we're supposed to provide them a lawyer (at our expense) and ask him nicely where bin Laden is hiding.

    Democrats hate America almost as much as al Qaeda does.

    February 26, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  11. Hows that nonunion made Toyota workin for ya?

    Hoekstra is a moron just like Glen Beck.

    February 26, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  12. John

    well well well.... The Democrats actually made a wise move.

    somebody write this down......

    February 26, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  13. Angie in PA

    Oh nice Republicans are now standing in the way of the LAW But then again they support Cheney and Bushes torture program! my god Democrats when are you going to grow some and stop letting the Republican party bully you that angers me!

    February 26, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  14. southerncousin

    We all have to remember that liberals hate the United States and want us to be more like Europe. That is why Gore and Obama won awards they didn't deserve from the Nobel committee. They were being awarded for their anti americanism.

    February 26, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  15. Ralphie

    Dems wimping out again! They let W get his way with invading Iraq and look what happened. Dems, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

    February 26, 2010 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  16. Dick Cheney For President In 2012

    Democrats and Liberals are more interested in punishing those who try to protect us than punishing those who try to kill us.

    February 26, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  17. Tony

    Hmmm, let's see...beatings, electric shock, waterboarding, diprivation of food and water or sleep and violations of the suspect's religious beliefs...oh yes, this sounds like to american way of accomplishing goals!!!

    No wonder we have so many violent criminals in this country, our leaders endorse violent behavior and our populace accepts it!

    February 26, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  18. Pete East

    Of course the thought of the interrogation tactics described are terrible.

    But, does anyone really think that we are going to get useful information from captured hardened terrorists, whose goals are furthered by destroying United States citizens and interests, by being nice to them?

    If you do, your niavety knows no bounds.

    February 26, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  19. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Didn't Bush once say, "We do not torture"? I guess that was a lie, huh?

    What has this country come to? There's no accountability for any actions by government.

    February 26, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  20. Chuck Anaheim Ca.

    Weak sucks! Then go after the real war criminals cheney and bush!

    February 26, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  21. Charlie in Maine

    Okay Dems. No torture means no torture, Go back to Dr Howard Dean and maybe he could transplant a backbone or two. Being against torture doesn't mean you are weak, bowing to GOP pressure (especially in the house where you out-number them by so much) does.

    February 26, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  22. Carlos

    Yeah, you Democrats! Shame on you for seeking accountability! Don't you know anything we do to terrorists is fair game because they're not human beings like we are, they're terrorists? None of the transgressions, illegal activities, or blatant human rights violations that happened between 2000 and 2008 should ever be analyzed or pursued... now let's get back to watching American Idol.

    February 26, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  23. Taterwheel

    Yes, it would be tragic if our government, including intelligence officers, were actually forced to follow the law and actually be punished for breaking it. Please forgive my sarcasm, but why have a law if there are no punitive measures allowable against those who break it? I didn't read the amendment and am taking the story at face value, so Rep. Rogers may have a point regarding the clarity of the definitions, but the republican hard-on to torture is NOT the American way. When I was a child, I asked my parent why our country was in the right against those countries we fought against and their answer was we don't ever torture like our enemies do. As I spoke with Vietnam vets in my adulthood, and we see in this decade, that was apparently mere propaganda. Unfortunately, when someone in our government actually tries to hold us to the ideals I was taught, republicans, in what I can only guess is due to some sexual repression disorder, act like someone took away their coloring books.

    February 26, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  24. John D

    This shows the Democrats still do not get it that sneaky, backroom, closed door dealings will not be tolerated any more. They just refuse to stop this malicious way of operating above the law.

    February 26, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    "Their reflex action is to blame the intelligence community first," he said."

    Total BS. Besides, what does he even mean by this cryptic blather? You're not blaming someone first for punishing them AFTER they did something wrong.

    "Thornberry said it was a "topsy-turvy land where we forget who the good guys are, who are trying to keep us safe, and who the bad guys are."

    What's this dufus talking about? It's simple: "Good Guys" = People who don't torture and commit acts of terrorism, and "Bad Guys" = People who do torture and commit acts of terrorism. What does being American or white or Christian or an intelligence officer have to do with it? NOTHING.

    "Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Michigan, said the amendment is too vague, failing to define such things as what constitutes lack of sleep or an infringement on religious beliefs."

    Who is this guy? Is he the only GOPer who had a potentially reasonable, rational position instead of vomiting knee-jerk ideological rhetoric all over our sensibilities? Someone quick...his GOP tinfoil hat must need a recharge.

    "Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, Illinois said the amendment simply "reiterates existing law on torture and provides statutory criminal penalties." Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, agreed, arguing that the provision "simply says, follow the rules, follow the law."

    Aaaaw, shucks, I guess whining about it and debating it is moot...but makes for wonderful political theater, eh?

    February 26, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
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